Some of America’s most valuable military partners in the global war on terrorism are not those with large populations, GDPs or military establishments. Their value is not in their capacity to field great armies, although some do possess small but sophisticated self-defense capabilities, but rather in their location and steadfastness in the face of military threats and political pressure. By these standards, many of the smaller Gulf States – Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), etc. – are rising to the forefront of American alliances.
Before the 1991 Persian Gulf War, virtually no U.S. military equipment was based in the region. When that conflict began, it took six months to move forces en mass across the world and into position on Iraq’s borders. Give the administration and the Gulf States of the region credit for learning from that experience. Since 1991, these small states and Saudi Arabia allowed the U.S. to maintain its bases in and around the region and conduct operations such as Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
By the time the U.S. was ready to enter Iraq in March, tens of thousands of American troops were ready, waiting, trained and equipped right next door in the small Gulf States. In addition to thousands of combat troops, Kuwait was home to the Army command center, Patriot missile defense systems, fighter planes, search and rescue personnel and command staffs. Qatar hosted a new high-tech command center (from which planners directed the war in Iraq), and a huge new air force base at al-Udeid from which operated U.S. fighters, reconnaissance planes and tankers. Together, Kuwait and Qatar held enough equipment for two Army heavy brigades. Nearby are the tiny Gulf island of Bahrain – whose capital is host to the most important naval facility in the region, the American 5th Fleet – and Oman, where both British and U.S. forces had trained and were deployed.
The UAE had been a supporter of Operation Southern Watch. During Iraqi Freedom, American aircraft using the al-Dhafra air base near Abu Dhabi included the R-135 electronic reconnaissance plane, refueling tankers, the U-2 and the unmanned Global Hawk, while American naval ships used UAE bases in the Gulf and Indian Ocean. This past April, in the same month in which the UAE ordered 80 advanced U.S. F-16 fighter jets in a deal worth billions of dollars, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld thanked the UAE for being the first nation to send a relief ship to Iraq.
For more than a decade, the small states of the Persian Gulf have stood alongside the United States in containing Saddam Hussein and fighting the global war on terrorism. Their contributions to regional peace and stability will be equally important in the future. The United States went to war once to restore the freedom of one of these small states, Kuwait. The security of these states is an important and enduring U.S. national interest.
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